That title. Does it incite some chills? Do you recognize the quote? I chose it because of the word “acumen” or its synonym, discernment. All of us need it, especially today. The news bombards us with information all the time, and it is vital that we have good discernment. At one time, journalists could be trusted to provide news as information, merely reporting the story with no bias. People were in a better position to decide for themselves what to think. Now, it is not easy to find media that reports the information without trying to swing us one way or the other–either to the far left or to the far right. Even scarier are the media outlets that have subtle ways of swaying us their direction. Without good discernment, we may start agreeing with something that, at one time, we might otherwise disagree. Students today are reading so much stuff on the internet, and without good discernment, they may be forming viewpoints that could influence them for the rest of their lives. As technology teachers, we should be educating students to skillfully discern the good from the bad, the credible sources from the non-credible sources.
ISTE standard 7c states, [coaches] “support educators and students to critically examine the sources of online media and identify underlying assumptions” (ISTE Link). The ISTE site glosses “underlying assumptions” by saying, “ability to recognize the perspective of author and purpose or bias of information sources.” The internet continues to expand every day. More and more information is added where someone somewhere can access it. Can our students, can our teachers discern the author’s purpose in adding the information out there? Can they see any biases within a text that could be distorting their view? This is one skill that can have a significant, far-reaching effect for students not just in their academic years, but in life. As an English teacher, using credible sources to cite in an essay is necessary and probably not too difficult to achieve utilizing educational sites. I see this ISTE standard more as a life skill, so I chose to sum the standard up in the word discernment. Marc Prensky, in his essay “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom,” “We make assumptions, often inaccurate, about the thoughts or intentions of others” (206). Prensky argues that we need to be more digitally wise in this day and age because this is a different time in which we live. The wisdom from the past is different from the wisdom we need now. While I agree with Prensky in his views on wisdom, I think it is okay to be wise–wise in whatever period of time we find ourselves. Develop discernment. Practice discernment so that we can make intelligent decisions without someone telling us what to think.
Teenagers tend to listen to their emotions. They look for what makes them happy, choose friends they can laugh with and have a good time, or they pay attention to the person who elicits strong emotions in some way. It could be in a song or in a YouTube video, but the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Marc Prensky notes, “We tend to go astray in our thinking in ways that limit our wisdom . . . we have difficulty separating emotional responses from rational conclusions” (206). I know I said teenagers, but think about it. Prensky is talking to all of us. Teenagers just happen to be in the earlier stages of this. There are plenty of adults who live by their emotions. Learning and using discernment will help curb those emotions and allow us to think more rationally. Then we can make decisions which produce something profitable, as a student: a well-developed essay assignment, as an adult: possibly a good decision solving an issue or problem.
One possible way to begin the process with teaching students to discern is to help them learn how to evaluate credible online sources. Because technology and the internet should be the focus of the lesson, the SAMR model can help in creating the lesson. “Redefinition” can easily be achieved due to the nature of focusing specifically with online sources. Previously, sources would come from a book in a library. The teacher would probably give a list of sources from which to choose. Teaching the student how to look for a credible source online and then allowing full access to the student puts them in a position to practice their discernment, practice looking for a credible source, and deciding if that source is sufficient for the assignment. What may have been just substitution (the “S” in SAMR), the internet now allows for a more transformative lesson. Granted, the student is not creating something new (which is the way “redefinition” is viewed) because the internet has been around for a long time. Still, they are now taking a lesson that at one time was limited to a small list of sources and are now being allowed access to millions of sites that may or may not be useful. Common Sense Education has created a great lesson plan to teach finding credible online sources (link here).
As a digital education leader, my goal is to help students and teachers better discern what is useful and profitable for whatever they may be trying to achieve. I want them to “enthrall me with [their] acumen,” but not quite the same way as Anthony Hopkins did in Silence of the Lambs. I believe Jodi Foster’s character, Clarice Starling, was a knowledgeable FBI agent, and she did enthrall Dr. Hannibal Lecter with her acumen. I just hope that she was able to use that same ability when finding credible sources for the papers she had to write before she graduated from the academy!
Marc Prensky, “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom,” in From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning. (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin, 2013), 201-15.